Why Is Sacramento the Capital of California?

Updated on March 30, 2020
bgpappa profile image

Bgpappa is an American history buff and writer. He lives in Sacramento.

As unassuming as it may be, Sacramento has a long and rich history in the Golden State.
As unassuming as it may be, Sacramento has a long and rich history in the Golden State. | Source

Ask any grade school student in New York or Chicago what the capital of California is—most would likely say Los Angeles or San Francisco. Surprisingly, however, the capital of California is Sacramento. Located within the Central Valley, Sacramento is California's seventh most populous city, and it certainly isn't the most well-known city in the state. So the question most people ask when they learn Sacramento is California's capital city is: Why?

Sacramento was chosen as the capital of California because:

  • It was founded early in the state's history.
  • It was the center of Gold Rush economic activities
  • It has a convenient inland location, close to both the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific coast

To find out more about how and why Sacramento was chosen as the capital, keep on reading!

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A map of Sacramento, circa 1849The State Capitol building was finished in 1874.
A map of Sacramento, circa 1849
A map of Sacramento, circa 1849
The State Capitol building was finished in 1874.
The State Capitol building was finished in 1874.

The History of Sacramento's Settlement

The history of Sacramento is as old as California itself. The area that would eventually become the state capital was originally settled by John Sutter. Sutter built Sutter's Fort in the heart of what is now downtown Sacramento. Sutter's Fort was used as a trading colony and military stockade, where fruits, vegetables and other resources that were found in the area were distributed to Sacramento's earliest settlers. Sutter also built mills in the nearby foothills. It was at one of these mills—in what is now Coloma—where John Marshall, an employee at Sutter's Fort, found gold in a stream in 1849.

Sutter's Fort still stands in downtown Sacramento.
Sutter's Fort still stands in downtown Sacramento.

Eureka! The Gold Rush Brings More Settlers to Sacramento

Around the time Marshall screamed, "Eureka!", John Sutter's son, John Sutter Jr. was planning to make Sacramento a city. It was incorporated in 1849 and was the first incorporated city in the state of California. Due to Sacramento's location at the base of the foothills (which were filled with gold) and only ninety miles inland from San Francisco, Sacramento was a major distribution point and center for Gold Rush activities. That is why Sacramento was the starting point of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Most of the people who came to California searching for fortune went through Sacramento. In addition, the businesses and services that came to California with the minors settled in Sacramento.

Why is the unassuming city of Sacramento the capital of California?
Why is the unassuming city of Sacramento the capital of California?

When Did Sacramento Become the Capital of California?

Originally, Monterey was chosen as the capital of California. However, after Monterey hosted California's Constitutional Convention in 1849 and California was admitted as a state to the United States, the capital was moved, first to San Jose, then to Vallejo, and then to Benicia. In 1854, the capital was moved again, this time to Sacramento—and Sacramento is where it remained.

Why Was Sacramento Chosen as the Capital?

Sacramento was a logical choice for the state capital. First, because of the Gold Rush, Sacramento had become the destination point for the new settlers who came to California hoping to strike it rich. With the gold miners came shopkeepers, blacksmiths, and other service-related entrepreneurs, giving the city a good economic base.

Second, unlike the other temporary capitals, Sacramento was not near the ocean, and that meant there was little chance of invasion. However, Sacramento's proximity to rivers that led to San Francisco and other ports allowed the city to engage in the economy both on land and at sea.

Last, many of the most powerful people in the newly formed state of California lived in Sacramento. John Sutter and John Marshall helped found the city, so the city had already been planned—street grids were completed and it already had a government in place. No new city had to be formed; rather, the state capital could move to an area that had already been established.

Today, Sacramento is a growing city with a small-town vibe.
Today, Sacramento is a growing city with a small-town vibe. | Source

What Is Sacramento Like Today?

The California State Capitol building remains the the centerpiece of downtown Sacramento. Around the capital, the buildings housing the government have risen to accommodate the growth of state bureaucracy. The city of Sacramento has grown as well, and it still strives to be considered a big city comparable to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But while the other cities have all the perks (and problems) of big cities, Sacramento remains a small town at heart—proud to house the center of California's government.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        horse 

        7 days ago

        thank you this helped me so much with a project i was doing.

      • profile image

        chin 

        5 weeks ago

        Thanks for this article.

      • profile image

        LinuxTux23 

        2 months ago

        Your article is very well written. I´am not a native speaker but i can understand it very good.

      • profile image

        JC George 

        5 months ago

        Why no mention of the start of the railroad in Sacramento?

      • profile image

        juliez 

        8 months ago

        i live there

      • profile image

        Arson sams 

        8 months ago

        Californie il good

      • profile image

        sylvester 

        9 months ago

        i help me a lot thanks

      • profile image

        Yeet 

        13 months ago

        Thx, Really helped a lot

      • profile image

        Big Chungus dude 

        14 months ago

        Thank you so good for a question that I had in a essay report

      • profile image

        RosieZeeRiveter 

        14 months ago

        Thanks so much! This really helped me with my homework!

      • profile image

        Natilyn 

        16 months ago

        Thanks!!! The info was very helpful for my homework.

      • profile image

        Cj dunkins 

        18 months ago

        Becoming a shit hole. Too many politicians who only.have their own agenda at heart..Thdy fleece the people who live there. .Use to be a nice place. I know I have lived here for 68 years

      • profile image

        Piper 

        21 months ago

        not sure about it still!

      • profile image

        oof_its_nae 

        2 years ago

        thank you i really needed is for my paper im writing

      • profile image

        bgpappa 

        2 years ago

        THank you all for the comments

      • profile image

        jhewjksdk 

        2 years ago

        hdfghjfegtuefguiwfgiued

      • profile image

        lydia schneeweis 

        2 years ago

        hi thx sooo much for the info on sacramento it was so helpful

      • profile image

        Wilson 

        2 years ago

        When I first saw Sacramento personally and learned that it is the capital, I couldn't help wondering why such a small town looking city is the capital without the alive snd busy atmosphere of San Francisco or Los Angeles. It looks like a town! A boring town.

      • profile image

        owlschool 

        3 years ago

        good info my school kids learned alot

      • profile image

        bullhead 

        3 years ago

        bullhead

      • profile image

        hakeemelamin2001 

        3 years ago

        Thanks man. I never thought Sacramento had so much info to why it is the capital. But thanks to you I now know. keep up the good work bro.

      • profile image

        vinnie 

        4 years ago

        thx for the stuff i really needed the info

      • profile image

        x.r. 

        5 years ago

        Beautiful piece. You should do one on all the major cities of california.

      • profile image

        Lizabeth. 

        5 years ago

        Love on Ohio. Love That California Capital!! Great city.....great people.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        6 years ago from Sacramento, California

        LA then wasn't what LA is now. Good a long time for LA to become a big city. Sacramento was already founded, organized, and both connected to the riverways but far enough away for defense.

      • profile image

        Michael 

        6 years ago

        i still dont understand why sacramento is the capital of california instead of los angeles

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        6 years ago from Sacramento, California

        You are welcome?

      • profile image

        6 years ago

        gosh thanks!!!!!!

      • profile image

        kelly 

        6 years ago

        any chance you can post your name?? I'd like to use this info for a paper but I need to site it...I can just use the website I guess but being able to link it directly to an actual person would make it more credible. I hope you get this. Thanks

      • profile image

        pandaface 

        7 years ago

        thanks for the info

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        7 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Ok, would you like to be more specific?

        Thanks for stopping by

      • profile image

        Lola 

        7 years ago

        Still don't get it

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        7 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks so much awesome.

      • profile image

        AwesomeM 

        7 years ago

        Awesome read! As a proud Sacramentan, its not a bad city to live in. You're on point on the "small town at heart," very true. Great job!

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        8 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks for reading.

      • profile image

        bigeyguy 

        8 years ago

        thanks for helping

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        8 years ago from Sacramento, California

        No problem, and thanks for such kind words. There is great historical sites in Northern California, and Sacramento is just the start.

        Thanks for stopping by.

      • profile image

        staci141 

        8 years ago

        This is a great article on Sacramento (and why it is the capital of California.) Being a northern Californian and my husband a transplant from Boston, Mass, I've always felt responsible for relaying historical facts about this region. For the most part, I had surmised and embellished upon details of our state's early history, but always wanted to know for certain. My entire family was delighted to hear new and interesting trivia!

        Thanks for the lesson.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        9 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks for the comment.

      • profile image

        tom boy girl 

        9 years ago

        I am doing California for a state project so recommend this toanyone else you know. Well the site of course

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        10 years ago from Sacramento, California

        thanks for reading

      • profile image

        blah bla 

        10 years ago

        i never new

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        10 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Its not forsaken, just not cosmopolitan.

        Thanks for reading.

      • SteveoMc profile image

        SteveoMc 

        10 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

        I did always ask myself why they would choose such a forsaken country to put a capital in, now I know. Thanks for the information.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        10 years ago from Sacramento, California

        thanks for the comment

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        10 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks for reading. Yes I do, I live about 15 minutes outside Sacramento. Most of the area is very beautiful.

      • wildfremd profile image

        wildfremd 

        10 years ago from Portland, Oregon

        Great info! Do you live in the sacramento area? It's so beautiful there....

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        10 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks

      • James A Watkins profile image

        James A Watkins 

        10 years ago from Chicago

        Coloma!  I am a proud member of the class of 1973! 

        Of Coloma . . . Michigan.  Thanks, I enjoyed the history of Sacramento. 

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        11 years ago from Sacramento, California

        Thanks for the comment.

      • profile image

        Writer Rider 

        11 years ago

        Sacramento where? Never heard of it (sarcasm intended). To me Los Angeles should be the capital of California.

      • goldentoad profile image

        goldentoad 

        11 years ago from Free and running....

        it was out on video the same day as the theatrical release

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        11 years ago from Sacramento, California

        lol, did the last one make $100,000

      • goldentoad profile image

        goldentoad 

        11 years ago from Free and running....

        I guess we'll get started making the next terminator movie.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        11 years ago from Sacramento, California

        No way, he never officially moved here so you get him back. And his $100,000 Cigar tent too.

      • goldentoad profile image

        goldentoad 

        11 years ago from Free and running....

        You can keep Arnold in the deal.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        11 years ago from Sacramento, California

        lol, there are a lot of people that say that. But it is what it is. And Sacramento has a pretty interesting history.

        Thanks for the comment.

      • goldentoad profile image

        goldentoad 

        11 years ago from Free and running....

        sacramento should only be the capital of NoCal. SoCal should be its own state.

      • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

        bgpappa 

        11 years ago from Sacramento, California

        thanks for reading.

      • EcoAsh profile image

        EcoAsh 

        11 years ago from Hemet

        Nice hub! I have always wondered why Sacramneto was the capital.

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